Review: ‘Venetia’ by Georgette Heyer

Posted May 22, 2018 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 6 Comments

Hooray for a heroine who is smart, resourceful and knows her own mind right from the start! So many of Heyer’s heroines somehow don’t recognise their own feelings until the hero sweeps them into his manly arms and kisses them thoroughly, but Venetia is not of that type. She sees her soul-mate in Damerel almost at once, and isn’t the slightest bit deterred by his rakish past. In fact, at the end of the book, her urgency in wanting to get back to him is as much driven by fear that he will take another mistress as anything else.

Venetia is twenty five, and has lived secluded all her adult life, firstly by the vagaries of her eccentric father, and later by the need to deputise for her absent brother, the heir to the estate, and her highly intellectual younger brother, who has a leg damaged by childhood illness. She is pursued by two dogged swains. One is a suitable and worthy but deadly dull man, who never respects Venetia enough to believe her when she says she doesn’t want to marry him. In fact, he never believes anything she says, because he’s a man and he knows better. The other is very young, suffering from over-romantic calf-love.

Into this state of stasis drops the owner of the neighbouring, much neglected, estate, Lord Damerel, a renowned rake and ne’er-do-well. As is very commonplace in these stories, his every action within the confines of the book are perfectly respectable (with one exception – his first meeting with Venetia). But from then onwards, he lives a blameless, not to say generous and open-hearted, life, setting his estate in order, taking Venetia’s hard-to-manage brother in hand and behaving with perfect propriety towards Venetia herself. It’s claimed that his objective is to seduce her, but frankly he never steps outside the bounds of propriety once, so it’s hard to believe.

The romance in this book is one of the most natural and charming that Heyer ever wrote. These two are perfect friends, getting along so well that you wonder quite how they can ever be kept apart. But kept apart they are, and for that stupid old chestnut of a reason, ‘the heroine’s own good’. Fortunately, Venetia discovers the truth and, being a resourceful lady, sets about securing her own happiness with great determination. My eyebrows rose at her journey all alone on the mail coach, and there’s just a touch of deus ex machina in the way she resolves her difficulty, but whatever.

Venetia’s family, even the always absent heir, Conway, is steeped in selfishness. The father withdrew into seclusion, trapping Venetia with him. The older brother is both selfish and indolent, one of those people who just never knuckles down to doing anything that might make him the slightest bit uncomfortable. The younger brother is immersed in his books, to the point of barely noticing the existence of his sister. And the mother – well, let’s just say she was pretty selfish, too. So it comes as no surprise that when it come to the crunch, Venetia decides to be selfish, too, and grab her happiness by the scruff of its neck, regardless of her family. And of course Damerel has always been selfish, too. I do wonder whether he will reform or not. The two have this delightful discussion at the end of the book, and I’m not at all sure whether this is serious, or only partly serious or all in fun:

‘You’d know about my orgies!’ objected Damerel.
‘Yes, but I shouldn’t care about them, once in a while. After all, it would be quite unreasonable to wish you to change all your habits, and I can always retire to bed, can’t I?’
‘Oh, won’t you preside over them?’ he said, much disappointed.
‘Yes, love, if you wish me to,’ she replied, smiling at him. ‘Should I enjoy them?’
He stretched out his hand, and when she laid her own in it, held it very tightly. ‘You shall have a splendid orgy, my dear delight, and you will enjoy it very much indeed!’

The final scenes are lovely, and there’s the usual array of wonderful minor characters to enjoy. This is more wordy and introspective than many Heyers, and I didn’t find either of the two suitors worthy of the amount of words expended on them, but never mind. A terrific heroine, a charming and un-rake-like hero and a wonderful romance – five stars.


6 responses to “Review: ‘Venetia’ by Georgette Heyer

  1. Nora

    I agree with the review more than with the comment. Being judgmental about the prudery and pretension of society during that era is part of the reader’s appreciation of the protagonists’ more modern views. (Elizabeth Bennett was the same, after all.) And the classical references exchanged by Damerel and Venetia comfortably establish the soulmate element of their romance, much in the same way Dorothy Sayers used it in her most romantic venture, “Busman’s Honeymoon”. This is one of my very favorite Heyers.

  2. Ealasaid

    I have run up against something that’s never happened to me before with Heyer–I hate this book. Hate is probably too strong a word, but I dislike it. Specifically, I don’t find Venetia and Damerel charming. The vast majority of their conversations seem to consist of mocking other people as stupid and foolish and ugly and negligible. Venetia is very well aware of Damerel’s promiscuity and bad behavior but hand waves it away as unimportant right from the start (before she’s even met him!) while simultaneously judging the woman he originally ran away with as a “slut”, and in fact blaming every single action of his in the years since on this woman (and on his parents’ reaction to his decamping the country with a married woman) as though he were not now a grown man in his late 30s, and for the frosting on the cake Venetia assures Demerel that the woman he ran off with is no doubt “fat” by now; I guess she got what she deserved!

    When Venetia first sees Demerel he basically assaults her, but this too is hand waved away. I wouldn’t even have minded that if she hadn’t been so hypocritically annoyed with Oswald for doing the exact same thing. The fact that Demerel’s orgies are a topic of fun and no big deal to her does not jive well with her scorn of his first love for her sexual misconduct.

    I agree that aside from the first meeting Demerel doesn’t behave like a rake, and I enjoy him at times. The secondary characters were well drawn. Unfortunately for me, I found Venetia mostly obnoxious, and I thought her romance with Demerel resembled two mean teenagers disparaging everybody they know as inferior to themselves.

    I think I just didn’t get this one, or it missed me by a mile somehow. Sorry for the rant!

    • Mary Kingswood

      This is a fascinating point which I’ve never heard anyone express before. It certainly passed me by when I read it! A lot of people dislike the book because of the way Damerel basically assaults Venetia when they first meet, and I totally see that point, but when I read it I was so transported by Heyer writing a Proper Romance for once, instead of tacking it on to the last chapter as an afterthought that I never quibbled about the rest of it. But you are quite right. How very judgemental they are.

      • Ealasaid

        When Conway’s bride Charlotte and her odious mother arrived, I thought finally maybe the book would take a turn and I’d like it better. Then Demeral and Venetia and Aubrey pronounce Charlotte a “ninny hammer” and a “dead bore”, and Demerel makes several remarks about Venetia “shining down Charlotte” because Venetia is just so much prettier. I wouldn’t even mind if they were bashing the odious mother, because she’s odious, but it feels like in virtually every conversation Venetia and Demerel have they are engaged in spitefully bashing somebody. In isolation I probably wouldn’t have thought that much of this one, but the totality of all these exchanges overwhelmed me.

        Demerel kissing Venetia that way didn’t really bother me until she and Demerel lectured Oswald on his “total lack of breeding or propriety” for doing the exact same thing! At least be honest and tell Oswald she was angry only because he wasn’t Demerel. I wouldn’t have minded Venetia being sympathetic to Demerel’s youthful mistakes if she hadn’t decided sight unseen, having never met either party, that his entire way of life was all the fault of that “slut”. I got off on the wrong foot with Venetia right from that moment early in the book and never recovered.

          • Ealasaid

            Now that I’ve had a chance to cool off, lol, it probably isn’t objectively THAT bad. Sometimes a book just hits you in the wrong place at the wrong moment. I didn’t like Venetia (the character). This one just wasn’t for me.

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